All hope is not dead for Donald Trump’s Republican rivals, but anyone seeking to emerge as a genuine challenger must soon begin to coalesce opposition to the ex-president to slow his chase toward a third straight GOP nomination.
A new CNN/SSRS poll showing the ex-president’s big lead steady in the first primary state of New Hampshire, an escalation of the campaign in Iowa, and frustrations among donors over a bloated field that is splitting the anti-Trump vote are injecting new urgency into the race four months before voting starts.
“We’re talking about four months. Can you believe it?” the ex-president said during a trip to Iowa on Wednesday, claiming that his polling had gone up like a “rocket ship” and boasting about how he had carried the state twice in general elections.
This is about a lot more than a horse race. In this unprecedented election, Trump’s strength raises the possibility that Republicans could chose a candidate facing four criminal trials, who could be a convicted felon by the November 2024 election and is promising, in an outpouring of autocratic rhetoric, a presidency of retribution that would test the rule of law more than his first term.
This prospect is at least part of the reason for increasing scrutiny of President Joe Biden’s campaign and prospects amid concern over his capacity to repel a fearsome Trump assault and then to fully serve a possible second term that would end when he is 86.
The state of the Republican race is this: Trump is not yet unbeatable but the conditions in which he could be beaten are still far from materializing.
The new CNN/SSRS poll in the Granite State shows some signs for optimism among Trump rivals who have so far struggled to mount a credible challenge to an ex-president beloved among the party’s base voters and movement in the race for second place.
Six in 10 voters are open to a candidate other than Trump, who leads with 39% – lower than his number in some other states and in national polls where he often gets a majority. But the perception that Trump could be beaten must be balanced against the fact that, just as in 2016, there is no dominant alternative to the ex-president.
In the poll, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has 13%, ahead of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at 12% and former New Jersey governor and vehement Trump critic Chris Christie at 11%. The poll is bad news for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who plunged 13 points from a previous poll in July to 10%, confirming that a campaign expected to pose a real threat to Trump has eroded significantly on contact with voters. But Haley, Ramaswamy and Christie all posted large gains while Trump’s support was steady, meaning the race is stable at the top but shifting below the front-runner.
One takeaway from the poll is that there is a genuine anti-Trump block of voters in New Hampshire. A sense that many voters are disillusioned by the prospect of another election between Biden and Trump and are despairing…